The first three Starchefs ICC's left me with a slew of memories. ICC #4 was no less memorable than the others. Seeing old friends, meeting new ones and finally meeting "virtual" friends in person is always special and so it was with this Congress. Of the latter group, it was particularly fun to meet some fellow bloggers, facebook, eGullet and Twitter friends and be able to put a face with those names and to be able to interact the old fashioned way. I will not name names here, as I would hate to inadvertently omit someone I shouldn't. In any case, you know who you are and I very much enjoyed seeing you and meeting you in person.
Since the Congress is about food and cooking with some of the very best chefs in the world cooking, it makes sense that there would be plenty of amazing food. Some highlights of food tasted or smelled include:
- The Ika jime sea bass and tuna vertebral disk jelly from Dave Arnold and Nils Noren, I have already described here. It was simply sensational
- Sean Brock's Shrimp and Grits prepared during his workshop was an example of using modern technique to truly enhance an already wonderful dish. The depth and quality of flavor was truly extraordinary. I could eat this any time.
- While I did not get to actually eat any of it, the aroma that arose from Rohini Dey's and Maneet Chauhan's grilled marinated beef was absolutely intoxicating. Though I had previously been familiar with their Vermilion restaurants located in NY and Chicago, just on the basis of that aroma, I must eat at one.
- Even though there was plenty of very good food prepared by the sponsors during the event, my son and I tried a beef baoguette that was available for purchase. It was every bit as good as its reputation.
- The Rising Stars Review dishes were all excellent. My favorite was the buckwheat soba noodles and quail egg from Asiate.
- The opening night Cocktail Party at Le Cirque was a lot of fun with plenty of very good food. The Rougie foie gras prepared by Le Cirque's Craig Hopson was flowing like water and going down just as easily.
- To have cocktails prepared by Audrey Saunders, John Deragon, Junior Merino and others all in the same place and at the same time is the dream of any cocktail enthusiast. Monday evening's cocktail party at the Armory was one sweet dream. If I didn't have a dinner reservation, that would also have been one very dangerous dream.
- While just a sauce, the hollandaise prepared sous vide by Daniel Humm for his workshop was as good as any I have tasted.
- Richard Blais prepared a breakfast using contemporary techniques that was not only clever and fun – it was also quite tasty.
- The caraway aquavit used for Arnold and Noren's mass skoal! went down quite easily.
As great as the experiences mentioned above, the various workshops and demos and so many other things were, my single biggest personal highlight came after the end of the Rising Stars Review. I was planning on heading down to the After-Party at Abe & Arthur's and had exited the party onto Columbus Circle along with Juan Mari Arzak, Paco Torreblanca and their sous chefs, all of whom had been planning on going to the After-Party too. Chef Arzak turned to me and asked if there was a place nearby where they could relax for a few minutes and have some coffee. I turned around to see the Time-Warner Center and immediately told him, "Per Se," a suggestion to which both he and Torreblanca took an immediate warming. They invited me to join them and I led the way. Once in the restaurant around 10:15PM, we stopped at the host stand. The first person to greet us, did not immediately recognize either of the great chefs, but a moment later someone did and the maitre d', Chloe Genovart, who spoke a very good Spanish, came and invited us in. They insisted on seating the five of us in the dining room and immediately offered and began to pour what appeared to be a bottomless bottle of champagne. Despite the fact that we said that we did not want food, the staff began bringing some nibbles anyway including gougeres, Thomas Keller's signature salmon cornets and oyster and pearls and indeed would have brought out an entire dinner had Arzak and Torreblanca not insisted that they stop. With a quick dessert and some coffee, our repast ended, followed by a visit to the kitchen, where Chef David Breeden was running the show that evening. Fortunately I had my camera and a fresh battery (another had run out of juice while I was up at The Rising Stars Review) and was able to take a few photos in the kitchen. Shortly after, we left the restaurant. Indefatigable, the Spaniards left for the After-Party. Not wanting to jumble the evening I decided that I would end it on this high note.